Youth ministry working group meets to chart new course

Youth ministry working group meets to chart new course

Six youth selected by YRUU leadership join group charged with designing new model for UUA youth ministry.
Donald E. Skinner


The group that will define the Unitarian Universalist Association’s new model of youth ministry added its final members earlier this month and set off on a path of discovery.

The Youth Ministry Working Group met October 3–5 in Waltham, Massachusetts, its first session with its full complement of members. The group has 20 members, including six youth and two youth advisors who were just added.

“Our primary goal was to get the new folks up to speed,” said the Rev. Mara Dowdall, interim director of the UUA’s Office of Youth Ministries and a member of the working group. “We also had some great conversations about the work itself.” She said a report from the weekend meetings would be available in coming weeks at

Dowdall said the meeting will be followed by another in January 2009 and one in the early spring. The working group expects to make recommendations on youth ministry to the UUA Board of Trustees at the board’s April 2009 meeting. That will be followed by further discussions at General Assembly.

The group consists of 10 youth plus 10 adults who are closely connected to youth programs at various levels of the Association.

The working group is the end result of a process begun by the UUA board in 2004 to examine how ministry to and with youth is carried out within the UUA. At the board’s request, the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth spent two years gathering information on youth ministry across the Association, and a summit of more than 50 youth and adults met in the summer of 2007 to generate recommendations.

Until June 2008, much of the UUA’s denominational resources for youth ministry had been going to YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists), a group that functioned largely at the continental level. In an effort to focus youth ministry more closely at the congregational level, the board ended funding for YRUU as of June 30. The working group is charged with creating a new framework for UU youth ministry.

In an open letter in September, UUA President William G. Sinkford announced the addition of the final eight members to the working group. He noted that the group will develop a vision of youth ministry that is congregationally-based, multigenerational, spirit-centered, and “counter-oppressive, multicultural, and radically inclusive.”

The final eight members of the working group were chosen by the outgoing elected leadership of YRUU in partnership with youth currently serving on the working group.

Sinkford noted in his letter that the working group would effectively carry the mantle of continental youth leadership for the next year.

“I know that for those UUs whose experience in our faith has been positively shaped by participation in Continental YRUU,” Sinkford wrote, “its end may bring with it some measure of disappointment and hurt. Despite the broad consensus that the current structure for continental youth ministry was not serving our faith well, there is sadness in saying goodbye and uncertainty about what comes next.”

Sinkford noted that many local youth groups use the name YRUU, but those groups will not be affected by the end of Continental YRUU. The UUA’s core-level services to youth, including support of Youth Caucus at General Assembly next year, web resources, curriculum development, and other resources, will continue as usual, he said.

Sinkford said that YRUU’s 25 years of service will be celebrated at General Assembly next June along with an acknowledgement of those who have led it across that period of time.

He added, “Many of you are wondering what comes next? We stand between what has been and what is yet to be. It is my hope we can use this time to generate excitement about the future of our youth ministry, as we allow the Youth Ministry Working Group to carry out its charge.” Youth members of the panel are Nick Allen, Beatriz Bianco, Charlie Burke, Helia Daigeau, Caitlin DuBois, Morgan Ivens, Michael Kusz, Victoria Mitchell, Katie Parker, and Jackie Whitworth.

Adult members of the panel are Robin Barraza, youth advisor; Nancy DiGiovanni, the UUA’s acting co-director of Young Adult Ministries; the Rev. Mara Dowdall, interim director, UUA Office of Youth Ministries; Judith Frediani, UUA director of Lifespan Faith Development; Andrea Lerner, district executive for the Metro New York District; India McKnight, DRUUMM YaYA (Diverse & Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries Youth and Young Adults of Color) and UUA youth ministry program associate; the Rev. Alison Miller, representing the UU Ministers Association; Laura Spencer, program associate for racial and ethnic concerns in the UUA Identity-Based Ministries staff group; the Rev. Judy Tomlinson, representing the Liberal Religious Educators Association; and the Rev. Archene Turner, youth advisor.

Caitlin DuBois, who represents the General Assembly Youth Caucus staff and is originally from First Unitarian Church in Hobart, Indiana, said she felt very “positive and hopeful” after the meeting. “I think we feel a sense of urgency in order to come up with a recommendation by April. It’s exciting that we will soon have something concrete for congregations, districts, and the Association to begin implementing. It’s vital that this amazing work succeed. That feels like so much more of a possibility after this meeting.”

Dowdall said she is enthused about the working group process. ‘We’re in an interim year in youth ministry. We have this amazing vision that’s emerged that includes a refocusing of youth ministry on congregations. It’s premature to know what that will look like, but we’re excited to be doing this work.”

Related Resources

  • UUA Youth Ministries.Resources include UUA President William G. Sinkford’s September 2008 letter and information about the working group. (